Musician Liz Phair has stirred intense debate with her new release. (Photo: Jim Cooper/AP/Shutterstock)
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Going pop

Liz Phair: No Gardening Songs, But Still Plenty of Sex

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If you don’t know Liz Phair’s music, her new self-titled album is a perfectly pleasant pop record that bears passing sonic resemblance to Avril Lavigne. If, however, you’ve been a Phair fan since her 1993 debut, “Exile in Guyville,” brace yourself.

With “Guyville,” said to be her answer to the Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street,” the New Haven-born Phair established herself as an iconoclastic singer-songwriter who wasn’t afraid of electric lo-fi songs that frankly explicated her sex life.

The album was a critical smash, but subsequent records didn’t sell particularly well.

“Liz Phair,” her first new release since 1998, sounds like her gambit for mainstream success.

It’s much slicker than her previous albums, and Phair’s clear voice wraps easily around big, smooth pop hooks on songs with straightforward arrangements. She produced a few of the songs herself and with Michael Penn (Mr. Aimee Mann) on five others.

The similarities to Avril come on the three tunes Phair co-wrote with the Matrix, the songwriting and production team that wrote Lavigne’s biggest hits. The trio’s collaboration with Phair produced the weakest tunes on the album: “Extraordinary” makes Phair sound unsure of herself and needy in an unbecoming way, and “Why Can’t I?” is just sugary pop drivel. Liz Phair holding hands like a love-addled schoolgirl? Please.

The accessible melodies and polished production notwithstanding, Phair still has a penchant for dirty lyrics. She sings about a fling with a younger man on “Rock Me,” humorously noting the age difference with lines like, “Your record collection don’t exist / You don’t even know who Liz Phair is.”

And “H.W.C.” is a joyfully filthy paean to a subject there’s no delicate way to describe. It’s also one of the catchiest songs on the album, pushed along by bouncy acoustic guitar. As a bid for mainstream audiences, “Liz Phair” isn’t a bad way to get attention. But it’ll probably leave long-time fans cursing the lure of pop stardom.

By Eric R. Danton
Hartford Courant, June 26, 2003

Featured image: Phil Poynter

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